The Startup
Published in

The Startup

Screenplay Edit: “The Imitation Game”

A line-by-line edit of an excerpt from the script.

Screenshot by the author; © 2014 by StudioCanal UK.

The Imitation Game tells the true story of mathematician and computer scientist Alan Turing as he leads a group of cryptanalysts in deciphering Nazi communication codes during WWII. The script was written by Graham Moore, based on Alan Turing: The Enigma by Andrew Hodges.

💬 Original lines appear as code blocks, edited lines appear as “quote blocks,” changes appear as boldface, and commentary appears as regular text. Original lines that do not require editing are run into the same code blocks as original lines that follow them and do.

Original Text

INT. BLETCHLEY PARK - DAY - LATERANGLE ON: A machine. It looks like a typewriter that got left on the set of Blade Runner. Wires running all over it. Extra gears sticking out of the sides. Blinking lights that reveal German characters. Half electrical, half mechanical.COMMANDER DENNISTON (O.S.)
Welcome to Enigma.
SLOWLY REVEAL: COMMANDER DENNISTON, 50s, is showing the ENIGMA MACHINE to the NEW RECRUITS.They are:HUGH ALEXANDER, 30s, loves women and chess in equal measure.JOHN CAIRNCROSS, 30s, Scottish, not the prodigy his compatriots are and knows it.PETER HILTON, 20s, a precocious undergrad from Oxford.KEITH FURMAN and CHARLES RICHARDS, 40s, both stodgy linguists.Stewart Menzies — head of MI-6, who we briefly glimpsed in the opening — stands in the corner, silent and observing. Charming and inscrutable, he didn’t become the head of British Secret Intelligence Services by accident.COMMANDER DENNISTON (CONT’D)
The German navy encodes every message they send using the Enigma machine. The details of every surprise attack, of every secret convoy, of every U-Boat in the bloody Atlantic go into that thing, and out comes... Gibberish.
FINALLY REVEAL: ... Alan stands with them, staring at the machine like it’s the Sistine Chapel.He reaches out and touches it lovingly.ALAN TURING
It’s beautiful.
COMMANDER DENNISTON
It’s the crooked hand of death itself.
Denniston shows Alan sheets of Enigma messages: PAGE AFTER PAGE OF RANDOM LETTERS.COMMANDER DENNISTON (CONT’D)
Our WRENs intercept thousands of radio messages a day. But to the lovely young ladies of the Women’s Royal Navy, they’re nonsense. It’s only when you feed them back into Enigma that they make sense.

Line Edit

INT. BLETCHLEY PARK - DAY - LATER

Bletchley Park is the name of the estate that houses the British Government Code and Cypher School. As such, setting a scene inside Bletchley Park is impossible, as Bletchley Park has no interior; it does, however, have buildings that have interiors. So let’s specify the building at Bletchley Park in which this scene takes place.

INT. BLETCHLEY PARK MANSION — DAY — LATER

Generally, and for obvious reasons, scene headings should include only one time designation. However, when two are needed (as in this scene heading), the second, more specific designation should be treated as a modifier and as such enclosed in parentheses. So let’s enclose LATER in parentheses.

INT. BLETCHLEY PARK MANSION — DAY (LATER)

ANGLE ON: A machine.

Throughout this script, the author has employed a unique style of denoting shots: as in this line, the author has run all shot headings into shot descriptions. And while I would typically consider this an error (given that shot headings typically take their own lines, thus denoting them as shot headings), the author employs this formatting with such prevalence and consistency that I am inclined to consider it a creative choice. And since the formatting is clean and the meaning of the formatting is clear, let’s respect this choice and leave all instances of run-in shot headings as they are.

But let’s also employ language in this line that is more descriptive of the machine and that illustrates the sentiment of the scene.

ANGLE ON: A strange machine.

It looks like a typewriter that got left on the set of Blade Runner.

Although the reference to Blade Runner here is descriptive and amusing, it feels out of place within the context of the story given that the events of the story take place forty years before Blade Runner was released. Also, this is the only time in the script when the author references modern time, making the reference inconsistent with the voice and tone of the script. And even if neither of these were true, the sentence is illogical, as it is not clear how a typewriter that “got left on the set of Blade Runner” would evolve on its own to look like anything other than it did when it got left there. So let’s revise this sentence.

It looks like a typewriter but clearly isn’t.

Since what follows this sentence is a list of the machine’s features, let’s replace the period at the end of the sentence with an em dash.

It looks like a typewriter but clearly isn’t

Wires running all over it. Extra gears sticking out of the sides. Blinking lights that reveal German characters.

Since all of these lines are fragments that describe features of the machine, let’s combine them into a comma-separated list and attach them to the previous line. And let’s also include an ellipsis at the end of the sentence to indicate that the list continues.

It looks like a typewriter but clearly isn’t — wires running all over it, extra gears sticking out of the sides, blinking lights that reveal German characters

This sentence looks good and reads well now; however, the description is simply inaccurate — or, if it is accurate, it fails to describe the machine adequately, or in such a way that readers can imagine it. For example, what does it mean for wires to “[run] all over it”? What does it mean for the machine to have “extra gears”? What does it mean for lights to blink and “reveal German characters”? These details are simply too vague to be useful. So let’s rewrite this description, using the following image as reference (and Wikipedia for terminology):

It looks like a typewriter but clearly isn’t — dark metal set in a wooden box, patch cords spilling from a plugboard across the front, lettered lamps and jagged rotors on the top

Half electrical, half mechanical.

The information in this sentence is implied by the list of features, so let’s remove this sentence.

COMMANDER DENNISTON (O.S.)Welcome to Enigma.

Enigma is neither a place nor the name of the codebreaking operation; it is the name of the machine. Thus, one cannot be welcomed to Enigma rather introduced to it. So let’s revise this line accordingly.

Meet Enigma.

Or, less personified:

This is Enigma.

SLOWLY REVEAL: COMMANDER DENNISTON, 50s, is showing the ENIGMA MACHINE to the NEW RECRUITS.

Since Commander Denniston has already been introduced in this script (in the previous scene), let’s remove his introduction here. Let’s also remove the all-caps styling from everything but the camera direction. And since Commander Denniston has just called the machine “Enigma” in the previous line, referring to it here as “the enigma machine” is redundant for readers, so let’s remove this redundancy.

SLOWLY REVEAL: Commander Denniston is showing the machine to the new recruits.

Although showing is an accurate word to describe what Commander Denniston is doing, it is imprecise. So let’s replace it with demonstrating. And since the new recruits have not been referenced until this point in the scene, they should not be preceded by the article the, as this article specifies nouns relative to referents. So let’s replace this article by specifying the new recruits as Commander Denniston’s latest.

SLOWLY REVEAL: Commander Denniston is demonstrating the machine to his latest recruits.

They are:HUGH ALEXANDER, 30s, loves women and chess in equal measure.JOHN CAIRNCROSS, 30s, Scottish, not the prodigy his compatriots are and knows it.PETER HILTON, 20s, a precocious undergrad from Oxford.KEITH FURMAN and CHARLES RICHARDS, 40s, both stodgy linguists.

Since all of these lines are fragments, let’s combine them into a single sentence, separating them with semicolons.

They are: HUGH ALEXANDER, 30s, loves women and chess in equal measure; JOHN CAIRNCROSS, 30s, Scottish, not the prodigy his compatriots are and knows it; PETER HILTON, 20s, a precocious undergrad from Oxford; and KEITH FURMAN and CHARLES RICHARDS, 40s, both stodgy linguists.

Let’s improve the mechanics (and readability) of this sentence by removing the colon at the beginning and enclosing the age designations in parentheses. And while we’re at it, let’s add an age designation for Keith Furman.

They are HUGH ALEXANDER (30s), loves women and chess in equal measure; JOHN CAIRNCROSS (30s), Scottish, not the prodigy his compatriots are and knows it; PETER HILTON (20s), a precocious undergrad from Oxford; and KEITH FURMAN (40s) and CHARLES RICHARDS (40s), both stodgy linguists.

Although Hugh Alexander’s description tells us about his personality and John Cairncross’s description tells us about his self-awareness (and hints at his espionage), neither tells us who these men are, what they do, why they’re at Bletchley, or how they got into the codebreaking program. In contrast, Peter Hilton is described as a precocious student at a prestigious university, and Keith Furman and Charles Richards are described as linguists. A few lines from now, we’ll learn that Hugh Alexander is Britain’s two-time chess champion, and this information seems more relevant than that he simply loves chess. And although we don’t learn it in the script, John Cairncross is a translator (in addition to being a Soviet double agent). So let’s include this information in their descriptions. And let’s also conform all the descriptions to the same construction, ordering the information in each equally.

They are HUGH ALEXANDER (30s), Britain’s charming chess champion; JOHN CAIRNCROSS (30s), a self-aware Scottish translator; PETER HILTON (20s), a precocious Oxford undergraduate; and KEITH FURMAN (40s) and CHARLES RICHARDS (40s), both stodgy linguists.

Stewart Menzies — head of MI-6, who we briefly glimpsed in the opening — stands in the corner, silent and observing.

Since Stewart Menzies was not introduced earlier in the script, let’s introduce him now and style his name accordingly.

STEWART MENZIES (50s) — head of MI-6, who we briefly glimpsed in the opening — stands in the corner, silent and observing.

Let’s improve the mechanics of this sentence by replacing the em dashes with commas and removing the hyphen in MI-6. And since Stewart Menzies is the direct object of the verb glimpse, let’s use the corresponding direct-object pronoun and replace who with whom. Also, since glimpse means “to see or look at briefly,” qualifying our opening-scene glimpse of Stewart Menzies with briefly is redundant, so let’s remove this qualification. Oh, and let’s also specify opening as the opening scene.

STEWART MENZIES (50s), head of MI6, whom we glimpsed in the opening scene, stands in the corner, silent and observing.

Since the corner that Stewart Menzies is standing in has not been referenced until this point in the scene, let’s remove the article the that precedes it, as this article specifies nouns relative to referents. Also, since we’re encountering Stewart Menzies already performing an action (standing), let’s indicate as much by using the present-participial form of the verb that references the action he’s performing (standing).

STEWART MENZIES (50s), head of MI6, whom we glimpsed in the opening scene, is standing in a corner, silent and observing.

Unless Stewart Menzies is making noise, readers will assume that he is being silent (especially if he is observing). So let’s remove silent from this description. Also, I think what the author is trying to convey here is that Stewart Menzies is observing the recruits unbeknownst to the recruits. So let’s add an adjective to convey this.

STEWART MENZIES (50s), head of MI6, whom we glimpsed in the opening scene, is standing unnoticed in a corner, observing.

Charming and inscrutable, he didn’t become the head of British Secret Intelligence Services by accident.

That Stewart Menzies is the head of MI6 and is standing unnoticed in a corner, observing, is sufficient information for understanding his personality. Further, when he speaks later in this scene (and every other time in this script), his inscrutable-ness is self-evident. Thus, this description of him is unnecessary. So let’s remove it.

COMMANDER DENNISTON (CONT’D)The German navy encodes every message they send using the Enigma machine.

Commander Denniston’s previous line is “This is Enigma.” Thus, in this line, he needn’t repeat that the machine is the enigma machine. So let’s replace the name of the machine with the adjective this. Let’s also improve the mechanics of the sentence by capitalizing navy and, per the British way, removing the s from encodes.

The German Navy encode every message they send using this machine.

The details of every surprise attack, of every secret convoy, of every U-Boat in the bloody Atlantic go into that thing, and out comes... Gibberish.

Since this sentence expounds on the previous sentence, let’s combine them with a semicolon. And while we’re at it, let’s lowercase Boat and Gibberish and remove the ellipsis.

The German Navy encode every message they send using this machine; the details of every surprise attack, of every secret convoy, of every U-boat in the bloody Atlantic go into that thing, and out comes gibberish.

FINALLY REVEAL: ... Alan stands with them, staring at the machine like it’s the Sistine Chapel.

Since the ellipsis at the beginning of this sentence is not performing a function, let’s remove it. Also, it’s not clear who Alan is standing with, so let’s specify them as the recruits. And since we’re encountering Alan already performing an action (standing), let’s indicate as much by using the present-participial form of the verb that references the action he’s performing (standing).

FINALLY REVEAL: Alan is standing with the recruits, staring at the machine like it’s the Sistine Chapel.

That Alan is “standing with” the recruits does not necessarily tell us that Alan is one of them, so let’s replace standing with with among. Also, stare means “to look fixedly (at),” and not only is this not what Alan is doing to the machine, it’s also not what people do to the Sistine Chapel; in both cases, the appropriate word is marvel, which means “to become filled with surprise, wonder, or amazed curiosity.” So let’s replace stare with marvel.

FINALLY REVEAL: Alan is among the recruits, marveling at the machine like it’s the Sistine Chapel.

Although the grammar in this sentence is sound, it is (potentially) misleading; the like that denotes the comparison suggests that what follows will be a comparison between Alan and something else, but it isn’t; it’s a comparison between the machine and the Sistine Chapel. So let’s clarify this language.

FINALLY REVEAL: Alan is among the recruits, marveling at the machine as if it were the Sistine Chapel.

I am unconvinced that Alan Turing would marvel at the Sistine Chapel; although he was a spiritual man, he was not a religious man. And even if he had been a religious man, I just don’t think architecture would have inspired him the same way machinery did. So let’s revise this sentence to reflect this.

FINALLY REVEAL: Alan is among the recruits, marveling at the machine as anyone else would the Sistine Chapel.

This edit makes me chuckle, so let’s keep it.

He reaches out and touches it lovingly.

This line feels like overkill, and I doubt that the commander would allow his new recruits to freely touch rare and vital military-intelligence devices anyway, so let’s remove it.

ALAN TURING

Throughout this script, Alan’s character name appears in four variations: Alan, Turing, Alan Turing, and Professor Turing. However, all of these should be the same. Alan feels like the most personal and appropriate, so let’s go with this.

ALAN

It’s beautiful.COMMANDER DENNISTONIt’s the crooked hand of death itself.Denniston shows Alan sheets of Enigma messages: PAGE AFTER PAGE OF RANDOM LETTERS.

It’s not obvious here that Commander Denniston is showing the messages as evidence of his statement that the machine is “the crooked hand of death.” So let’s clarify this by adding to the sentence an introductory clause that states his intention.

To make his point, Denniston shows Alan sheets of Enigma messages: PAGE AFTER PAGE OF RANDOM LETTERS.

Referring to Commander Denniston here by only his last name is inconsistent with the references to him in the script thus far, so let’s conform this reference to the others and replace Denniston with Commander Denniston. Also, since Commander Denniston is giving a demonstration to all the recruits (and not just to Alan), he would not favor Alan over the others by showing only Alan the Enigma messages; he would show everyone the messages. So let’s replace shows Alan with the general reveals. And while we’re at it, since PAGE AFTER PAGE OF RANDOM LETTERS is not a character name, camera direction, or sound effect, let’s remove the all-caps styling.

To make his point, Commander Denniston reveals sheets of Enigma messages: page after page of random letters.

Although sheets is the correct term here, it is simply failing to convey the quantity that “pages and pages” does after it — meaning, the words are inconsistent with each other. So let’s replace sheets with, say, a stack. Also, although “Enigma messages” is understandable, I think we can be more descriptive and precise. Enigma is merely the machine that encrypts and decrypts the messages, so any description of the messages themselves must reference either their origin, their nature, or their senders. Thus, we could call the messages German Navy communications. And this would be fine, except that it’s still imprecise, as it doesn’t tell us what the messages are to British Intelligence; indeed, to British Intelligence, these messages are not merely communications rather intercepted communications. And, lucky for us, there’s a word for such communications: intercepts. So let’s call the Enigma messages “German Navy intercepts.”

To make his point, Commander Denniston reveals a stack of German Navy intercepts: page after page of random letters.

The following image is of a typical Bletchley intercept sheet:

Although the words that these letters form are unintelligible, the letters themselves do not appear to be “random”; they appear to be methodical and organized. Thus, “pages and pages of random letters” is an inaccurate description of the stack of intercepts. What’s more, this description adds little to readers’ emotional understanding of both the intercepts and the scene; indeed, these intercepts are terrifying, as they contain secret messages about the Nazis’ plans for domination and destruction, and the responsibility of Alan and the others to decrypt these messages is enormous. So let’s replace random letters with something more precise and provocative.

To make his point, Commander Denniston reveals a stack of German Navy intercepts: page after page of menacing cyphertext.

COMMANDER DENNISTON (CONT’D)

Although Commander Denniston continues to speak, what he says here is not a continuation of his previous line, so let’s remove the extension.

COMMANDER DENNISTON

Our WRENs intercept thousands of radio messages a day.

The acronym for the Women’s Royal Naval Service is WRNS. As such, the servicewomen of this branch of the Royal Navy were collectively referred to as Wrens. In this case, Wrens is capitalized, as it is a proper noun referring to the name of the body of servicewomen. However, when referring to an individual servicewoman or to a group of servicewomen, wren(s) is lowercased, as in this case it is a common noun referring to the servicewomen themselves. (For example, “Sally is a girl scout with the Girl Scouts.”) So let’s lowercase WRENs.

Our wrens intercept thousands of radio messages a day.

But to the lovely young ladies of the Women’s Royal Navy, they’re nonsense.

Since this line begins with a coordinating conjunction and is closely related to the previous line, let’s combine them.

Our wrens intercept thousands of radio messages a day, but to the lovely young ladies of the Women’s Royal Navy, they’re nonsense.

It’s only when you feed them back into Enigma that they make sense.

Since this sentence expounds on the previous sentence, let’s combine them with a semicolon. Also, given the commander’s personality, education, and intelligence, he probably has a broad and rich vocabulary. So let’s replace make sense with language more refined.

Our wrens intercept thousands of radio messages a day, but to the lovely young ladies of the Women’s Royal Navy, they’re nonsense; it’s only when you feed them back into Enigma that they become intelligible.

Edited Text

INT. BLETCHLEY PARK MANSION - DAY (LATER)ANGLE ON: A strange machine. It looks like a typewriter but clearly isn’t — dark metal set in a wooden box, patch cords spilling from a plugboard across the front, lettered lamps and jagged rotors on the top...COMMANDER DENNISTON (O.S.)
This is Enigma.
SLOWLY REVEAL: Commander Denniston is demonstrating the machine to his latest recruits. They are HUGH ALEXANDER (30s), Britain’s charming chess champion; JOHN CAIRNCROSS (30s), a self-aware Scottish translator; PETER HILTON (20s), a precocious Oxford undergraduate; and KEITH FURMAN (40s) and CHARLES RICHARDS (40s), both stodgy linguists.STEWART MENZIES (50s), head of MI6, whom we glimpsed in the opening scene, is standing unnoticed in a corner, observing.COMMANDER DENNISTON (CONT’D)
The German Navy encode every message they send using this machine; the details of every surprise attack, of every secret convoy, of every U-boat in the bloody Atlantic go into that thing, and out comes gibberish.
FINALLY REVEAL: Alan is among the recruits, marveling at the machine as anyone else would the Sistine Chapel.ALAN
It’s beautiful.
COMMANDER DENNISTON
It’s the crooked hand of death itself.
To make his point, Commander Denniston reveals a stack of German Navy intercepts: page after page of menacing cyphertext.COMMANDER DENNISTON
Our wrens intercept thousands of radio messages a day, but to the lovely young ladies of the Women’s Royal Navy, the messages are nonsense; it’s only when you feed them back into Enigma that they become intelligible.

I hope this demonstration has been useful to you, and that it furthered your understanding of editing as well as enabled and encouraged you to improve the quality and efficiency of your own work. See you next time.

--

--

--

Get smarter at building your thing. Follow to join The Startup’s +8 million monthly readers & +756K followers.

Recommended from Medium

Fractured Writing

Writing with Tomatoes and Supertomatoes

4 Reasons Why You Should Consider Rewriting Some of Your Older Articles

My Pilot Ball-Point Pen Comes With A Samurai Spirit

How to Make Sure Your Writing Has a Purpose

How to Make Sure Your Writing Has a Purpose Where do you want the reader to land?

The 11 Best Free Resources for Fiction Writers

How to Write a PSA Article

How to Write a PSA Article No, PSA does not stand for public service announcement

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store
Mitchell Ferrin

Mitchell Ferrin

I write about writing and editing and also share occasional thoughts on things. mitchellferrin.com

More from Medium

How the ‘Sex Lives of College Girls’ Remain Relatable

Welcome to Post Cool

Here Are 10 Top Tips For Hosting Twitter Spaces!

7 Expert Tips on How to Increase Engagement With Your Blog Posts